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4 Ways You May Be Able to Prepare and File Your Taxes for Free

I don't want to alarm anyone, but unless you're planning to file for an extension, your taxes are due in less than four days!

Tax time is a hectic time of year for a number of Americans who will spend hours digging through receipts and attempting to decipher what equates to about 58 novels worth of tax code. However, the end result is often worth it for most folks, as greater than 80% of citizens who file taxes will get a refund.

Source: Philip Taylor, Flickr.

But before you can even think about pocketing that refund, you have to think about how you're going to file your taxes in the first place. There are a number of possible choices including do-it-yourself tax preparation software, taking your receipts and W2s into an accountant or tax professional, or even going it alone and filing your taxes the old-fashioned way using IRS forms and a pencil (yes, people still do this!).

One little known fact, though, about the tax preparation process is there are quite a few avenues open for consumers to get their taxes done for free. But like most free services, these aren't heavily advertised, so they often fall through the cracks. Today we're going to look at four ways you may be able to qualify for tax help or filing assistance that results in absolutely no cost to you.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, offers free tax assistance for individuals who make $52,000 or less, as well as persons with disabilities and people who have a limited ability to speak English. If you qualify for this program IRS-certified volunteers will help you prepare and file your taxes electronically completely free of charge!

Tax Counseling for the Elderly
The second program offered by the IRS is Tax Counseling for the Elderly, or TCE, and is offered to citizens aged 60 and older. AARP supplies the trained professionals that help walk seniors through their individual tax situations which often involve pensions and retirement plans. According to the IRS, these tax professionals are often retired themselves and receive grants from the IRS to help seniors with their taxes, so they're well versed in even the most complex tax scenarios. Best off all, the program is free for qualified individuals.

IRS Free File software
There are a number of different tax preparation software solutions for the John and Jane Q. Public to choose from. However, if you made less than $58,000 in the previous year and feel comfortable enough preparing your taxes online without the assistance of being walked through your income, deductions, and credits on a step-by-step basis, then the IRS Free File software could be for you.

The obvious advantage here is the ease of entering data and the fact that e-filing reduces your chances of an error compared to a paper form by a factor of 40! On the other hand, tax filers will want to keep in mind that this free software doesn't have those pinpoint instructions you'll find with most tax-prepping software that you'll pay for. Thankfully, you can either call your local IRS office or stop by for free help should you get stumped with a question or number of questions.

Brand-name tax-prepping software
Lastly, consumers with extremely simple returns (i.e., Form 1040-EZ) may be able to turn to brand-name tax-preparation software such as Intuit's (NASDAQ: INTU  ) TurboTax, Blucora's (NASDAQ: BCOR  ) TaxAct, and H&R Block's (NYSE: HRB  ) At Home software to get their preparation and e-file done for free. Keep in mind that if you have any less common sources of income such as alimony, capital gains, or dividends you won't be able to file Form 1040EZ. Similarly, in the deductions column you can only claim the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Work Pay Tax Credit. If you have other deductions to claim, such as mortgage interest, educations expenses, or child tax credits you'll need to step up to the pay version of either TurboTax, TaxAct, or H&R Block At Home.

Have you taken advantage of this little-known tax "loophole?"
Recent tax increases have affected nearly every American taxpayer. But with the right planning, you can take steps to take control of your taxes and potentially even lower your tax bill. In our brand-new free special report "The IRS Is Daring You to Make This Investment Now!," you'll learn about the simple strategy to take advantage of a little-known IRS rule. Don't miss out on advice that could help you cut taxes for decades to come. Click here to learn more.

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Sean Williams

A Fool since 2010, and a graduate from UC San Diego with a B.A. in Economics, Sean specializes in the healthcare sector and in investment planning topics. You'll usually find him writing about Obamacare, marijuana, developing drugs, diagnostics, and medical devices, Social Security, taxes, or any number of other macroeconomic issues.

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